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Talking Across the Lines: Jack Clymer

Michael and Carrie Kline of Talking Across the Lines interviewed longtime Concord, Massachusetts, resident Jack Clymer. Press Play below to stream parts one and two of the audio from this oral history, and follow along with the interactive transcript below.

Michael Kline: Okay, today is—

Carrie Kline: The 24th.

MK: The 24th of September, a beautiful early fall day outside, and we’re in the trustee’s room at the Concord Free Public Library. My name is Michael Kline. I’m here with Carrie Kline. And would you please say, “My name is”?

Jack Clymer: My name is Jack Clymer.

Jack Clymer was recognized as Concord's 2014 Honored Citizen.
Jack Clymer was recognized as Concord’s 2014 Honored Citizen.

MK: And your date of birth, please?

JC: November 19, 1939.

MK: Okay. And if you don’t mind, to begin, tell us a little bit about your people and where you were raised.

JC: I was—I was born in Boston and raised in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Went to elementary school, junior high school, and started high school there in Wellesley. I was young for my class. I had to take a test to start kindergarten. So I was always the youngest in my class in school. And my father had gone to Andover, Phillips Academy, and apparently had decided that if he had a son—because it was a single‑sex school at that time—he would go to Andover if he was going to go. And I was doing very well in school, but I was socially immature. So my father said, “How would you like to go to Andover?” I said, “Fine, if I can get in.” So I went—I went into Andover as a sophomore. I essentially repeated tenth grade. It gave me an extra year of high school, which was terrific. And I liked the school very much. It was academically challenging. I started—I was not athletic at all as a kid, not great hand‑eye coordination, but I decided I’d try to row. The school had just started a crew team. So I rowed at Andover for three years. And I helped on the yearbook staff as I recall. I mean, I think those are my non‑academic activities. I was a boarding student, so I’d go home for Thanksgiving or long weekends, but otherwise, just like the other boarders. And it was a—it was really a life‑altering experience for me.

The entrance to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.
The entrance to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

MK: Life altering?

JC: Yeah. As you can tell, I’m getting emotional about it.

MK: That’s fine to get emotional.

JC: Because I—I developed self‑confidence, I think, and a lot of friends, a number of whom are still friends today, whom we see frequently. And it just—it set me on sort of a different path. So I—in the summers, I would always have a summer job. Friends and I worked in a greenhouse in Sudbury. I think it’s now a strip mall, but back then it was a carnation greenhouse. And we worked there for three summers. My friends lived in Wellesley also. There were three of us who worked there. And we’d start work at 4:00 in the morning because it was starting to get hot already at that time in the greenhouse. And we’d work until 1:00 in the afternoon. And we would pick carnations. We would prepare beds for new planting. We’d plant new plants. And the last and least attractive part of the job came at the end of the summer when we would clean out the boilers that were used to keep the greenhouses warm in the wintertime. These were large, large boilers, and cleaning them involved entering them lying down, back on the ground, facing up, and taking a large brush and brushing out the inside of the boiler. So you got a lot of flakes and rust and so forth on your face.

And then when we’d come home, our mothers would require that we hose ourselves off before we entered the house because we were just so covered with junk. But it was a great job because we were through at 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon, so we had the afternoons free. And we’d play tennis or swim. And then after that, probably by our third year, we were—had more active social lives, so we’d come home, take a nap, and then go out and sometimes come back about midnight, get up at 3:00, and go back to work again. We made—we made I think $1.50 an hour, something like that, which at the time was pretty good for unskilled students. After—after Andover, we looked at colleges. I went to Princeton. It was also a very good experience. I roomed at Princeton with three of the friends I’d made at Andover.

And I started rowing there as well. I was on the crew there for I think the freshman year, and then I dropped out my sophomore year but went back my junior year and rowed the last two years as well, which was a wonderful experience—made more friends. I worked relatively hard. And then the time came to graduate. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I had an uncle who was a lawyer, although he never practiced law. He was a trust officer in one of the Boston banks. And I thought the law sounded interesting. I thought it would be intellectually challenging. You’d be solving problems for people. And you’d be able to accomplish things for them, maybe do some good for them along the way. So I took the LSATs and did well enough on them to get into Harvard. So I went to Harvard Law School. I lived in a dormitory my first year, but friends of mine who had been to Harvard and were there in graduate school and I rented an apartment my second and—second year. We lived there in Porter Square, interestingly enough right above the railroad tracks for the train I now commute on the times when I commute to Boston by train. And then during my—the summer after my first year in law school, I got a job with the National Park Service in Concord. They were putting together the—what’s now the National Historical Park here. And at that time, they were doing a lot of work in the registry of deeds because, as I understood it, the initial hope was that the park could include the—the old farms that had been along the battle road in—

MK: Was this early ‘60s?

JC: This would have been 1960—summer of 1963. I had met—I had met my wife the winter of 1962. She and my sister were high school acquaintances, and my sister called up one December evening—I guess at the beginning of school vacation—and said, “You know, you’re in Cambridge, and we’re all home from college, and there must be a party somewhere. Maybe you could get some friends together, and I’ll get some of mine, and we’ll go out.” And one of the group was my wife, Diana, then Walker. So it was a snowy winter night, and I don’t remember how we met, but I remember I ended up taking everybody home. But I’d never—I had never met Di, and it was—for me, it was love at first sight. It was amazing. I just—I couldn’t believe it. We went to—we found a party somewhere, and we were talking and we danced together. And it just felt exceptional to me. So I kind of pursued her, and then we got engaged the following August—August of 1963. And then we were married in August of 1964.

She was a student at Wheaton College. She was a senior then, when we got married, and I was entering my last year in law school. So we found an apartment in North Cambridge, up in Porter Square, very nice apartment. We paid $150.00 a month. We had a living room, dining room, a kitchen, long hall, bedroom, study, bath—it didn’t have a view because it was on the first floor, but it was very convenient. And she and two other Wheaton students, who had also been married after their junior years, commuted back and forth to Wheaton, not every day, because they were seniors and they were working on senior projects. So they all had free time that they could use in the Harvard libraries and all to do the work on their senior theses. And the summer I got married, the summer of 1964, I took a job with Hutchins and Wheeler, which was said to be Boston’s oldest law firm, started in 1844—small firm—I think I was lawyer 18 or something like that—for that summer. And I went there because I’d gotten interested in trust‑in‑the‑states work when I was in law school, and the firm had a very good reputation as a trust‑in‑the‑states firm. I loved the summer. I really—it was my first experience doing sort of lawyer‑type work, and I liked it very, very much. So they offered me a permanent job at the end of the summer, and I took it, which was very convenient because I didn’t have to do any interviewing during my third year in law school. And at the time—we took our honeymoon in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. We tried to travel up there incognito, but in those days of wedding announcements, if you got married on a Saturday, you were in Sunday’s paper. And when we came down for breakfast, we were congratulated by the people who were running the place called Harborfields. It’s still there. It’s now run by the grandchildren of the people who were running it when we took our honeymoon there. So we decided this year to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary by going back. And it had changed, but not an awful lot. And Boothbay Harbor is just as pretty as it was back then.

The bar exam in Massachusetts was given early in the summer at the time I graduated from law school in 1965, so I took the bar exam. My wife had a job as a teacher in Reading, and I had the job with Hutchins and Wheeler, which didn’t begin until the fall. So we decided we were going to travel in Europe. Our parents had been—both our parents—were very, very supportive of our getting married, and they continued to pay our tuitions in school, and the money they would have spent on room and board, if we had been living in a dormitory and taking meals at the schools, they gave us. And so we were able to live on that while we were still in school, and we had some savings, which we used to go to Europe. And we spent nine weeks traveling around Europe. We bought a Volkswagen Squareback. So, given that we didn’t have to use much public transportation to get from one country to another, we were able to do it on very close to $5.00 a day a piece, so extremely inexpensive. We had a wonderful, wonderful summer, very, very special, and it turned out that travel is one of the things we really like to do, so we’ve done a fair amount since then. While we were in—in those early years of working—my parents decided to move from Wellesley to Sherborn. My father was quite a good craftsman. He was a good carpenter, not quite cabinet maker level, but he did make furniture, and he wanted to have more land. So they bought a piece of land in Sherborn, which had been an orchard, and built a house there. It was designed for two people to retire to, and we spent quite a bit of time out there helping them build walls and create gardens and so forth once the house was built.

1966_Volkswagen_1600_Squareback
A Volkswagen Squareback.

I guess I’d say our work lives were uneventful. I put in fairly long hours as a lawyer but not like the hours lawyers put in today. And my wife found teaching very enjoyable, a lot of work preparing but she loved working with the kids. And somewhere along the way, we decided after a couple of years that we wanted to move out of our Cambridge apartment, and we both had seen a lot of Concord during the summer I was working there for the Park Service, so we decided we’d like to move to Concord. And one day I went in to work on a Saturday. I had no sooner sort of sat down at my desk, then the phone range, and it was Di saying she’d found a house for rent in Concord near the center of town. And somebody was scheduled to see it at noon, but the real estate agent said if we could get out before that, we could see it first.

So I packed my things up, went back out to Cambridge. We went to Concord. The house was 10 Academy Lane at that time. It’s the little red house right behind the library on Academy Lane. And we liked it very much. It was a small house. It had a nice yard. And so we agreed to rent it. And as we were walking out the door, the other people were coming in the door, and the broker said, “I’m sorry. The house is rented.” So we moved to Concord in the—I guess it probably would have been the fall of 1967, maybe the spring, I don’t remember. And while we were there, Di had our first child, Sarah. She was born in January, and it was a cold, cold January day. Di went into labor quite early—fairly early in the morning—5:00 or 6:00 o’clock, something like that, maybe 7:00. And I went out to start the car to take her in to the hospital because she was going to go to—I guess it was Beth Israel—and I couldn’t get the car started. So at that time, there was a garage down on the corner of Thurlow Street and Belknap Street. And the fellow was there. And he came up and started the car. He said—I called him on the phone—he said, “Everybody’s having trouble starting their cars today.” And I said, “Yeah, but, my wife’s in labor.” So he was there in about two minutes. And we drove in town, and Sarah was born, and came back.

CK: Is that Sarah with an H on the end?

JC: Yeah, that’s Sarah with an H. Yeah. And our landlord was Eric Smith. He owned the red house. He owned the house next door to it and the house next door to that, which has since been taken down, and a large yellow house on Sudbury Road, one up from the Mobil station, which were all rental properties. And he had a housekeeper, a woman named Lyyli Koskoenhovi—L‑Y‑Y‑L‑I K‑O‑S‑K‑O‑E‑N‑H‑O‑V‑I. She was a nurse, and she had gotten her education, or part of it I believe, in the United States and had helped Eric’s parents when—as they got older. And supposedly Eric’s mother had said to Lyyli, “When we’re gone, I hope you’ll take care of Eric.” But she had gone back to Finland, where she was a native, had married, and shortly after the war, her husband died. Her husband was a doctor. And so she came back to the states and basically was Eric’s housekeeper for the rest of her life. We got to know her very well. She never had any children, and so Sarah became her baby. And she and Di and Sarah would go shopping together. And Lyyli was as proud and fond of Sarah as if she had been Sarah’s mother. One summer, she took us to Finland. She would go to Finland every summer and visit her family. So we arranged to go with her one year, and the three of us drove around Finland visiting her friends and family, very, very enjoyable time. It was our first experience in the Scandinavian countries at all.

And then three years later, Di became pregnant again, and our second child—second daughter—Amy, was born, also in January. And that was a more difficult birth for her, but it was fine in the end. And having two kids—or knowing that a second one was on the way—we had bought a house in Concord up on Whippoorwill Lane. We met the owner at a party, and in talking with him, he said that he was going to move back to Connecticut. And we were looking for a house, and I said, “Would you—could we take a look at your house?” He hadn’t listed it with a broker yet. So we looked at it. It was a three‑bedroom, one‑and‑a‑half‑bath house on a dead end street. It seemed very attractive, lot of conservation land behind it, only a few houses on the street. So we moved there, probably in 1969 or ’70, and enjoyed it very much. We had very pleasant neighbors. We made some changes to the house. We finished the basement. We put a deck on it. We had a—there was a breezeway between the house and the garage, and we closed that in and made sort of a family room out of it. And it was—we lived there for a number of years. And then Di got tired of having to take the kids back and forth everywhere, because we were close to the Acton Line; we weren’t on anybody’s way to get anywhere. And the kids were getting older, and we thought it would be good to live in the center of town. So we started looking again and found a house at 235 Main Street, on the corner of Belknap Street and Main Street, across from Concord Academy. It was an old house, 1844 coincidentally, supposedly occupied way back—

MK: Coincidentally?

JC: Coincidentally with the law firm’s start date. The law firm was founded in 1844. This house was built in 1844. So we—Di brought her mother out to look at the house because the house had an apartment in it. The woman who lived in it had made an apartment for her mother. And Di’s father was considering retiring at that point. And they had a house in Wellesley and a house on the cape. And they had a house—a condo—down in Florida. And they didn’t need to have three houses. So they said, “Could we rent the apartment?”—you know, for a couple of years until Bob—my father‑in‑law, Robert Walker—retires. So we said, “Sure.”

She came to look at the house. Her comment was, “It has a lot of potential,” because the house needed a lot of work—decorating type work, not really anything—we thought—nothing structural, although we did discover, after we bought it, that there were a couple of raccoons living up under the eaves in the attic. There was a huge hemlock at the western end of the house, and that was their ladder to get up in there and sort of behind the curtain wall make a little nest. But we finally got them out, had the roof repaired in the process, and started—and then had the apartment fixed up so it was in very nice shape. And the apartment consisted of the front—the old front and back parlors—and then in addition—which I think had probably been a porch at one point; it was still a summer porch upstairs but closed in on the first floor—and there was living space there and a bath and a decent‑sized kitchen.

So my in‑laws moved in there, and they were there for a couple of years while Di and I gradually started working on the rest of the house. And we decided after about a year or eighteen months that it was never going to get done if we tried to do it all ourselves. At one point, she went for a physical exam, and the doctor said, “Gee, you have a high level of lead in your blood. What have you been doing?” And we’d been burning off pain in the house. So that was the end of that project—for her, and I stopped shortly after that. And we just started attacking the house room by room. And then her parents—her parents sold their house in Wellesley, and after a couple of years, they moved out of the apartment and spent their time in Florida during the winter and on the cape in the summertime. And Di, at that point, was on the board of Belknap House, which was two doors down Main Street, congregate living for the elderly. And there was a waiting list to get in. So she thought, gee, they’re right down the street; why don’t we rent the apartment to somebody who’s on the waiting list for Belknap House, and they can take their meals there if they want to or cook them themselves, but they’ll be close by and can move in when a place opens up.

Ironically, the person who wanted to rent the apartment was somebody who I think was in Belknap House at the time, a wonderful woman named Helen Marean—M‑A‑R‑E‑A‑N—who had been a decorator in New York and at a relatively young age had suffered a very, very serious stroke. And she had been progressing from hospital care to nursing home care to assisted living and then to Belknap House. And she wanted more independence. So she—she remained a—like a member or something of Belknap House. She could still take her meals there if she wanted to, but she lived in our apartment for a number of years until she had to go into a nursing home as her health failed. And at that point, we expanded the house to include what had been the apartment. That became my study, and then later we redid the kitchen and re‑landscaped the backyard and so forth, made it the way we wanted to have it. We put—we reestablished bedrooms up in the attic where I assume the maids had lived, put a bathroom up there. So we had a lot of space for family and friends and so forth.

And we had a—it was very difficult for me to move when we decided to downsize because we had had just wonderful experiences in that house. We had dinner at one point with Sandra Day O’Connor when she was here giving a talk at the library. We met Vladimir Posner who is a Russian journalist. I actually heard him on the radio a couple of days ago commenting on United States‑Soviet relations. It turned out that evening that there were three people in the room whose birthdays were on the first of April. It’s a pretty interesting coincidence—I think including Mr. Posner. So there were a lot of very, very—very pleasant memories of occasions in that house. But Di really wanted to move. We both felt the house was too big for just two people. Our kids were grown up, out of college, on their own, both married, and so we started looking and wanted to be near the center of town, as we were, wanted a smaller house, and wanted to be on the river. We knew that was going to be a challenge because houses on the river were getting larger as people added to them.

But Di one day was taking a shortcut between Main Street and Elm Street on River Street and noticed a for sale sign on the house of a friend of hers, Mary Rauscher. They were both active in the Concord Art Association. And Di had said to Mary at some point, “Mary, I love your house. If you ever decide to move, please let me know.” And Mary had just put an addition on the first floor so that she could live on one floor. It wasn’t being used that way at the time, but that was the idea behind it. But apparently her daughters had convinced her that it was time to move. And the real estate agent who was helping us look for a new home was the listing broker. So Di called her up and said, “Why didn’t you tell me about Mary Rauscher’s house?” And she said, “I thought it would be too small for you.” Di said, “I love that house. I want to see it.” So she saw it. She called me on the telephone and said, “You’ve got to come see this house. There are other people looking at it. This is the house.” So I went out, I looked at it, and I said, “Looks fine to me.”

So we agreed to buy the house and put our house on the market. That was 2006. Our house—we had our house under an agreement, but we’d accepted an offer within a week of putting it on the market. And the timing worked out well. The people weren’t going to be ready to move in until November. We thought that would give us time to work on the other house. So we rented the house at the end of River Street on Elm Street, a beautiful old brick end house. I think Sanborn had lived there at one point. And it was vacant, and the owner wanted to have it occupied to have somebody living there and reduce his insurance premiums and help pay the carrying costs. So we moved in there while the house on River Street was being worked on, and that was kind of interesting, too, because Di had been shown that house by our broker. And she said, “Why are you showing me this house? It’s much too big for us.” And she said, “I know it is, but I just thought you’d like to see it.” And Di said, “It would be fun to live here for a while, but I wouldn’t want to own it.” And so we ended up living there for about ten months while the house on River Street was being built. It was perfect because—at least as far as Di was concerned, it was perfect, because she could go to the house on River Street every day and see what was happening and keep in touch with the contractor who was building it. And so now we’re very happily ensconced at 13 River Street.

When we—when we moved to town, we got involved with a group called the Concord Home Owning Corporation. It was a group of people who were concerned about the very homogenous character of the town and wanted to try to encourage more diversity in the town. And so we developed a strategy in which when a house—a moderately priced house—came on the market for sale, we were going to buy it. And then we were going to try to find an African‑American family who would be interested in moving to Concord and sell it to them, because at the time it was difficult for black people to see houses that they might be interested in in Concord, as it was in probably most of the other suburban towns like Concord. It was a noble—it was a noble goal that turned out to be economically totally unfeasible because we didn’t have the resources to buy and hold and then try to sell a house. And shortly after that, Massachusetts passed the anti‑snob zoning law, which required—

MK: The anti who?

JC: Anti‑snob zoning law. I think it’s Chapter 40B, I believe, of the General Laws. And New Jersey had done something I think immediately before this or right around the same time that basically said that zoning laws will not apply to a particular piece of property in the town unless the town has a certain percentage of its units which are affordable, as measured by the cost of housing in relation to the cost of somebody’s income. And so we turned our attention to that, and at one point during that period, while we were living on Whippoorwill Lane, there was a town election and there was a seat on the Housing Authority which was available. So, being interested, I decided to run for the Housing Authority. Being young and naïve, I campaigned on the platform of providing family housing in town. The only subsidized housing at that point was for the elderly. And we had the town employees who—who couldn’t afford to live in the town. So I ran on the platform of doing that—and lost. I was soundly beaten in the campaign. The campaign was fun, but it was relatively low key. And shortly after that, the selectmen asked me if I’d be willing to serve on the town’s Planning Board. So I did. Those were the days before the open meeting law, and we—we used to meet in each other’s—in each other’s houses when we were planning for Town Meeting. When we had hearings of course we’d be at the Town House, and most of our meetings were at the Town House, but when we really wanted to get business done and figure out zoning changes that we might want to recommend, we’d meet at somebody’s house. And during my period on the Planning Board, we hired our first town planner, Kevin Hurley who became a developer after he left the Planning Board job. And that was, I think—I think it was either a five‑ or a seven‑year term, a relatively long term.

CK: H‑U‑R‑L‑E‑Y?

JC: H‑U‑R‑L‑E‑Y, Kevin, yeah. After the Planning Board, I wanted to continue to do something in the town.

MK: What was the nature of the Planning Board? What sort of planning were you involved in?

JC: The Planning Board—the Planning Board recommends—drafts and recommends—zoning bylaw changes for the town. So—and those would deal with required lot sizes, maximum heights. In some towns there are floor area ratios so that you can’t build a building with more than a certain amount of floor area unless the lot is large enough to support that aesthetically. That kind of thing, and it also has something call site plan approval. So there are a number of situations in which a zoning bylaw will require, or allow, the Board of Appeals to grant permission to do a kind of development which otherwise would not be permitted in the particular zoning district without a special permit. And if a special permit is involved, usually the Planning Board has to review the plan from the perspective of sort of site design. Is the kind of building proposed or the amount of building proposed reasonable for the site? What are the accesses going to be to—either within the property or to the town roads? That kind of thing. So a lot of the work was site plan approval work. If somebody has a large piece of land and they wanted to subdivide it, they have to get Planning Board permission, called subdivision approval, to subdivide the lot, and that involves, again, sizes and shape of the lots and the road configuration within the property that’s going to be subdivided. If someone is not looking to build a road in—on a piece of property—but wants to subdivide it so that it will have frontage on an existing public road, then they go through a process with the Planning Board in which the Planning Board determines that subdivision approval is not required because it’s already—already frontage on the public way. And so they’ll come in and say, “This is the way I want to divide my lot into two or three lots, and all of them have the required frontage on the road. Is that okay?” If the Planning Board signs off on it, then the lots can be sold as separate lots. So the Planning Board would meet I think usually once a month, occasionally more often than that, particularly in preparation for Town Meeting. And the meetings could be fairly long, depending upon how many matters that were before the Board. But it was very—it was very interesting work. When I started, Betty Carrlihan was the Chair of the Board.

CK: Who?

JC: Betty Carrlihan—C‑A‑R‑R‑L‑I‑H‑A‑N (sic) (Carlhian)—I think it is. Her husband was a very, very prominent architect, and I believe he taught at the—the graduate school of architecture at Harvard. She was—she was terrific. We had a very good—very good Planning Board.

MK: What about the work interested you so much?

JC: Well, I did—when I first started practicing law, the firm was small and you did everything. The way you learned to be a lawyer was you did corporate work, you did some transactional work, you represented lenders, you did real estate. I actually did a divorce once and decided after that experience I never wanted to do another one. Everybody ended up unhappy, the lawyers, the clients, everybody. And real estate. We did real estate work. And I just—I liked it. I liked the planning part of it. I was interested in the town. I mean, we’d moved to the town because of its history and the atmosphere. It was more diverse than Wellesley where we’d grown up—more diverse economically—than Wellesley. It had farms, operating farms. It had a lot that was attractive to us, and it was important to both of us I think that development be done in a way which was going to be sensitive to the kind of town it was.

CK: What were you concerned about diversity? You mentioned it a couple of times. What does that confer and what is the benefit of it?

JC: You know, I don’t—I don’t know. I think—I think that it was—I know it was part of my father’s values, and I think along the way, I just came to feel that—that communities were stronger with a diverse population. I had the benefit also of being a trustee of a private foundation in Boston. It’s called the Hyams —H‑Y‑A‑M‑S—Foundation. And a few years, maybe eight or so, after I’d been practicing—seven or eight years—I was asked to become a trustee of the foundation. At that time, the trustees consisted of a Boston bank, three lawyers from the law firm—from Hutchins and Wheeler—and an individual whose father had been a close friend of Godfrey Hyams who founded—who started the foundation. Godfrey Hyams was an investor, an industrialist, an entrepreneur. He had interests in mining, probably had interests in West Virginia, in coal mining there. But he was a very wealthy man. People thought he wasn’t married, and it turned out after he died that he had been secretly married but never had any children. And during his lifetime, he created the foundation as a vehicle for his own charitable giving. But when he died, he left the bulk of his estate to the foundation and appointed his lawyers, who were lawyers with Hutchins and Wheeler, as trustees. And they were told to appoint a Boston bank as a trustee. So that was the structure of it when I first got involved. And we made grants for all kinds of charitable activities in greater Boston and beyond, everything from YMCAs to neighborhood centers in the city. And coincidentally a friend of ours at one point—at the time—at the time I started on the foundation board, there were two women. One was sort of a secretary and the other a financial person who kind of kept the foundation’s books and kept the minutes of the meetings. And the trustees were reading all the grant applications and arguing about amounts of grants and who should get them and so forth. I’m not sure, based upon what I learned since, that we were adding a lot of value to the deliberations of the board, but the lead trustee, a fellow named Bill Swift who was a partner in Hutchins and Wheeler, decided when the two elderly women were retiring that he needed to have a more formal kind of arrangement. And he hired a college classmate of Di’s, a woman named Joan Diver, who came in sort of as a high‑level secretary and ultimately became the executive director of the foundation. Joan and her husband, Colin Diver,—C‑O‑L‑I‑N—lived in the south end. They were one of the early couples to move into the south end because they were—they were committed to the city. They bought a house there. And Colin, who was a very, very talented individual, did a lot of the renovation work and restoration work on it himself. And I think Joan brought with her a strong commitment to diversity, to racial equality, to equal opportunity, and we started focusing our grant making more. And Colin was in state government. He was the Commissioner of Insurance. I think he’d been maybe assistant secretary of administration of finance. He then went to teach at BU Law School, taught administrative law. He—when he graduated from law school, he went to work for Kevin White. Colin could have gone to Wall Street. He was Law Review, very smart, very good lawyer. But he—he got the fire for doing something in the way of public service. So he worked for Kevin White and then for the Commonwealth and then went to teach at BU.

MK: And Kevin White again was—?

JC: The mayor of Boston. The mayor of Boston for a number of years—maybe—I’m not sure how many, but perhaps as long as a decade. Forward looking man. Interested in developing Boston. When I told law school classmates I was going to stay in Boston to work, they were surprised, because Boston at that time was seen as sort of a dull place. I mean, very nice community, but not seen as being very dynamic. And we had the whole issue with school bussing, so it had a very bad aura I think of being very racially intolerant.

Former mayor of Boston Kevin White.
Former mayor of Boston Kevin White.

MK: Roxbury.

JC: Roxbury, yeah. Dorchester. And it just didn’t seem dynamic enough. But Di and I both wanted to stay here. And Colin and Joan were brought up in Lexington and were committed to the city. And so I think Joan started to bring that into the foundation. And over time we started to narrow our grant‑making focus. And then Colin became Dean of the BU Law School, I think for only two years when he was recruited to become Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and they moved to Philadelphia. At that point, we started looking for a new executive director. And we had been employing a woman who had worked for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services as a consultant. And she was advising the foundation on its grant making. And we decided she’d make a good executive director. Her name is Elizabeth Smith. And so she has been executive director of the foundation for twenty or more years I would say at this point.

CK: Does that—does this foundation have an impact on Concord?

MK: No.

JC: No. All the grant making was done in Boston and Chelsea period. So—

MK: But this shaped you in a sense for work you would do later with the Concord Planning Board—

JC: Well—

CK: It’s not from the planning—

JC: It was—they were happening together. And so I think they were maybe reinforcing each other. I’m not sure. I had a mini‑epiphany while on the foundation board. We were—we made grants to the Elma Lewis Center, which was a cultural center in Roxbury, and the founder was Elma Lewis. Very well respected, very committed to the community there. And somewhere along the—and so the foundation always supported that effort. And at one point, I think the Center’s board undertook an expansion plan, which was overly ambitious, and they got into financial trouble. And I’ll never forgot, Deborah Prothrow‑Stith was one of our trustees.

Deborah Prothrow-Stith is a former professor and associate dean at the Harvard School of Public Health and is currently a consultant and an anti-violence advocate.
Deborah Prothrow-Stith is a former professor and associate dean at the Harvard School of Public Health and is currently a consultant and an anti-violence advocate.

CK: Spell that?

JC: Deborah Prothrow, P‑R‑O‑T‑H‑R‑O‑W, Stith, S‑T‑I‑T‑H.

CK: And Deborah is D‑E‑B—

JC: —O‑R‑A‑H. Her husband, Charles Stith, is a minister, very active nationally into the black community. He later became ambassador to Tanzania. Well, Deborah was on the board. She was teaching at the Harvard School of Public Health, and—a black woman, very smart, very engaging, very warm, wonderful person. And we were having a heated discussion at the Hyams Foundation Board about the Elma Lewis Center. And we were trying to decide whether we should impose conditions on our grant that the Center strengthen its finances. And Deborah said something like, “You know, this is another example of the establishment putting the heat on an effort to improve things in this black community by putting all these constraints on this wonderful job that Elma Lewis has been doing.” And I suddenly realized that our perspectives were totally different. Her experience as a younger black woman really interested in the community gave her a view which was quite—quite different from—from the rest of us. We had two—we had two black trustees on the board, Roslyn Watson and Deborah. And Deborah was—could be quite outspoken. But it really changed—it opened my mind in a way I think that it never had been before to how important it is to understand and value somebody else’s experience and realize that they may look at the world in a very, very different way from the way others do. And ultimately—I don’t even remember what we did—if we put conditions on it, we probably softened them significantly, but it certainly changed my attitude and I think it changed the attitude of some of the other trustees about the way we need to do our grant making.

MK: A very impassioned presentation on her part?

JC: Um—

MK: Or just very clear?

JC: Very clear. Very—not angry. Annoyed, but not angry at us, but—disappointed in the fact that others wouldn’t realize that they might be doing harm to something that was really valuable by—by not creating enough latitude for this organization.

CK: So this was a view that then you brought home to Concord?

JC: I honestly don’t know how much of it was there before and how much of it was—I think it certainly has been strengthened by my experience serving on that foundation board for a long time. That foundation has been a leader in many, many ways. It was—it was the first—

MK: Can we pause just for a moment?

JC: Yeah.

CK: You were saying you then moved to another—

JC: I did. I then moved to the electric light board, the Municipal Light Board. I did it just because I was interested in it. I mean, I knew nothing about electricity. I’d done a little amateur wiring at home, until I was trying to do some wiring once and then discovered there was something called a circuit that was double fused. And I had unscrewed the fuse and was working on it when a spark jumped across the screwdriver or whatever I was holding. But the—I was interested in the fact that we had a municipal utility, which distributed the electricity in the town, and thought that would be a learning experience for me, which it was. So I served on the Light Board for whatever the term was, and then I think I sort of took a—took a holiday for a while. And in 1987 I decided to run for the Board of Selectmen. There was concern at the time about the board, and there was a vacancy coming up. Somebody had served one term and was running for a second term. I believe there was just one vacancy. And lo and behold, a friend of mine and I, without the other knowing, both decided to run for—I guess there were two—there were two seats on the board. We both decided to run. So he and I were running, and the incumbent was running. And Di was my campaign manager. She was then doing—had started doing some event planning. She had worked for WGBH on a big fundraiser involving the PBS chefs Julia Child and the Frugal Gourmet and others and had helped them organize this fundraiser. She has tremendous organization skills and very—a great deal of success attracting and managing in a sense volunteers. So she was my campaign manager, and we had a ball running this campaign for Selectman. It was a lot of work, tremendous fun, and when all was said and done, my friend and I won the two seats. And I’ll never forget. We had a celebration party at our house on Main Street. And I bought a whole bunch of those foldable scissors—you know, that you can carry around where the blades fold into the handles. When you want to use them, you unfold them, and you’ve got a pair of scissors. And I gave them to all the people who’d been active in the campaign so they could use them to cut the red tape when I was a selectman. (laughs) That was fun. Serving on the board was very, very interesting. So I served—I ran a second time, served on the board a second term, and toward the end of that term, our town manager was going to change, so I was involved in searching for the new town manager who is still the town manager, Chris Whelan. He was then I think executive—or secretary to the Board of Selectmen down on the cape.

MK: So this would have been 2000 and—

JC: This would have been—no, this would have been 1994.

MK: Oh, ’94.

JC: Yeah. The Selectmen serve three‑year terms, so I served from ’88 to ’94. And I think it was early in 1994 that we agreed to hire Chris. I think he came on just before my term ended. In Concord, you—you don’t—the culture is that you not serve for more than two terms but that if you’re elected to office, there’s sort of an understanding that you will—you will run again, so people have a chance to vote against you if you’ve done a bad job, but you don’t serve for more than two terms. So after two terms on the Board of Selectmen, that was it for me.

MK: That’s not law, that’s—

JC: That’s just the culture. That’s the custom. Yeah. I—when I—I did a couple of other things. I think—maybe one while I was Selectman and one afterwards. While I was Selectman, I was on a committee to redistrict—maybe the Selectmen’s representative on a committee to redistrict the schools. They were concerned about disproportionate populations in the various elementary schools, and so the committee was charged with figuring out how to draw new district lines, which is—has got to be—one of the most thankless jobs in the world, really, really difficult. But it was very—it was very interesting. It was much more complicated than I had thought it was going to be and a great, great learning experience.

CK: They can probably hear your fingers on the—

JC: Sorry. (laughs) And then after—at some point after that, the Selectmen appointed a committee to look at Town Meeting. And the idea was—well, we’d had a—we’d had a very contentious Town Meeting. I don’t remember exactly what the issue was, but we filled the high school auditorium, the high school cafeteria, and almost filled the gymnasium, it was so well attended. And it was a vote for reconsideration or something that got people angry and concerned about the fact that more citizens didn’t come to town meeting. So the Selectmen appointed a committee, the Town Meeting study committee, to look at what could be done to make Town Meeting more efficient, more accessible by the voters. And we came back with a number of suggestions, some of which were adopted right away, things like having a consent calendar, so that matters which were not controversial could all be dealt with as a group rather than having to vote on every single article in the Town Meeting. I don’t know how much you know about Town Meeting, but there’s a—there’s a warrant, which is essentially the public notice that there’s going to be a Town Meeting. And the warrant includes articles. And each article is a piece of business to be voted upon at the meeting. So in early articles, you deal with budget matters. So the whole budget for the town is in one article. But they’re all—you can discuss all the various pieces of it as you go along. The municipal light plant is self‑supporting. The town’s recreation department is self‑supporting. At that time, we had a town landfill that was supposed to be self‑supporting. And so in Massachusetts, those are called enterprise funds because the fees charged pay for the enterprise so the taxpayers don’t pay. The users pay.

And those are always—almost always—non‑controversial articles. There are various statutes in Massachusetts that allow you to give tax breaks to veterans, to people who have lower incomes—those always pass without controversy. So those kinds of things would be grouped into a consent agenda, and you ask the Town Meeting first whether there are any objections, anybody wants to discuss any of those. If a certain number of voters do, it’s taken off the consent agent. If they don’t, then you have one vote on all of them. So you can cover fifteen to twenty articles with one vote. So that was one thing that’s been done. Another thing was to schedule articles which were thought to be ones that were going to generate a lot of discussion. So you’d say, the first thing we’re going to do tomorrow night is article fourteen. So people who were interested in that article could make their plans. They could come for article fourteen. If they didn’t want to stay, they could leave afterwards. Or they didn’t have to come to the whole meeting and then discover that they were there for two hours before we got to article fourteen. So that was another thing that was done. We talked about having a town meeting on a Saturday or a Sunday. Both of those had potential issues with faith communities. So that never really went anywhere. But I think next year for the first time, we’re going to have a town meeting on—going to start on a Sunday afternoon. We’ll see how that goes. So there were a number of things like that that were suggested. That also was quite interesting. And—

MK: Was this about the time that the meetings started being televised?

JC: I think it probably was. Yes, it was, because when I was a Selectman, the meetings were televised. So this—yeah, this would have been then. Meetings were being televised at that point. There was talk—that’s a good question because there was talk about enabling people who were watching the meetings on TV to vote. That’s still being discussed, but they haven’t figured out exactly what kind of technology would be required that would be affordable and how to ensure that it’s registered voters who are voting, that kind of thing. I suspect that’s going to happen at some point. The other issue is, if you’re watching on TV, you don’t really get a chance to participate, at least at present. You can’t contribute to the meeting.

MK: But, as you said, you can jump in your car and race down—

JC: You can jump—yeah. Yes. Yes, you can.

MK: If there’s an issue that really concerns you.

JC: Yes. You can do that. And I think there are probably people who do do that. So—I’m trying to think, after the light board, those committees—I think that was—that was it for the town until a couple of years ago. My wife, Diana, had been on the Historic Districts Commission when we moved to Main Street. And I used to kid her because I always thought the Commission pushed the boundaries of what their jurisdiction was. So we had some nice discussions about that over the years. And I was going to one of the pre‑Town Meeting hearings in 2011 when I was asked by one of the Selectmen if I would go on to the Historic Districts Commission. The town has—I forget the number but four or five historic districts. We’re in one here at the library. And Concord established historic districts back in the 1960s with—through special legislation that the Massachusetts General Court passed. So we have a Historic Districts piece of legislation, which is unique. Later the Commonwealth created the opportunity for towns to have historic districts very much based upon Concord’s legislation but with some slight differences.

Jack's wife, Diana, known as Di, is also very active in the Concord community.
Jack’s wife, Diana, known as Di, is also very active in the Concord community.

MK: Concord’s model.

JC: Concord’s model, yeah. The Historic Districts Commission was generating a lot of concern at this time. People felt that the Commission members were not—as polite as they should be to people who were applying for permits to change their properties, maybe that some of the decisions were arbitrary. It just had a bad aura around it. And so I talked to Di about it and decided I’d be willing to be appointed if they wanted to appoint me. So I went on the Historic Districts Commission in—I guess June or July of 2011. And it’s been—it’s been terrific. Oh, no—I know what—before that—I’d forgotten that—I was on the Community Preservation Committee. Massachusetts has a Community Preservation Act in which the fees, I believe—some portion of the fees from the registry of deeds are put into a fund, and communities can establish a Community Preservation Committee, which is empowered to make grants for cultural—for recreation, preservation—historic preservation—and cultural purposes and open space—recreation open space, history, culture. And if they do that, then the town will have a fund, which can be used for those purposes. Actually—no, I’m wrong—it’s not. The source of the funds is a community preservation tax, which is in addition to the real estate tax. So the tax can be between one and three percent of your real estate tax. And the higher the tax obviously, the more in this fund. The state then matches the town’s contribution from another source of revenue. And it may be deed recording fees. I’m not sure exactly what it is. I don’t recall. But the higher the tax, the more the state will match.

And so Concord, after several years of attempts, interesting enough, finally got Town Meeting to approve the creation of a Community Preservation Committee and a tax of—I believe our tax is at the one percent level. So one percent of our real estate taxes each year goes into this Community Preservation fund. The Committee is made up of representatives of the Historical Commission, the Planning Board—Commission, Planning Board—several other town boards—and the Selectmen. The Selectmen appoint several members, and the town boards appoint several more members. So it’s a mixed board. It gets applications each year, always for more money than is available. And certain minimum grants have to be made for—for historic preservation, for open space, and maybe for culture. And then you can make grants for recreation. Once you meet the minimums, you can do whatever you want with the rest of the money for those specific four purposes. So the money has been used for open space acquisition here to a fairly significant degree. It’s been used for constructing new playing fields at the high school. It’s been used for renovations at the Concord Art Association, at the Concord Museum, and for a number of different preservation purposes for recreation for open space acquisition. And so I was—that’s a board which you—I think you serve on that for three years. So I was on that board—that committee—for three years and then was asked to come on to the Historic Districts Commission, which I did, and that’s what I’m doing now. And that’s a very—it’s a difficult—it’s a challenging job. It takes quite a bit of time. The commission meets twice a month except during one of the summer months when it meets just once a month. And if you own property within a historic district, any exterior changes which can be seen from a public way or place, like a park or the Sudbury or Concord Rivers, has to be reviewed by the Commission. And the Commission has to approve architectural changes and colors, if you want to change the color of your house or your blinds or whatever. So there usually is a fairly full docket because there are a lot of properties which are within the historic districts, and owners are always wanting to upgrade or change or add to. And it’s a difficult balance between the owners’ interests and rights to modify their properties and the interests of the Commission, which is looking at—you know, decades or fifty or a hundred years down the road and trying to preserve the most important historical characteristics of the physical environment in the town for future generations.

MK: Continuity and integrity and all those issues.

JC: Very hard. Very, very, very hard. But the composition of the Commission has changed. I’m the only person on the Commission now who was there in 2011. The terms of all the others have ended, or the people have resigned. And we now have a full complement. There are five full‑time members and five associate members. And we have meetings at which all ten people are there, which is pretty unusual. Currently I think it’s a very, very good group. We have two architects and a real estate broker and people with good landscaping experience, a diverse group. And I think it’s—it’s a much more palatable Commission than it was a few years ago.

MK: What a great, in‑depth look at these things. I’m just thrilled to hear how open and comprehensive you’re being with all these details. In the few minutes that remain, if you could reflect a little bit on overall changes maybe that you’ve seen—

JC: Uh‑hunh (affirmative).

MK: In your time here.

CK: Built and social—

JC: Yeah. Yeah. The built environment is interesting because I think the population of the town is relatively close today to what it was when we moved here. Maybe it was 15,000 or 15,500 when we moved here, and I think it’s about 17,000 now. So in terms of population, it hasn’t grown that much. The built environment has changed. I was also on a committee, after the Community Preservation Committee and before Historic Districts, which was called the—the Zoning C—or the Rezoning C Committee—something like that. We—there’s an area in town off Sudbury Road—South Meadow it’s called—where houses were built in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, and they were generally small. Some of them have decent‑sized lots. And there have been a lot of teardowns and construction of very large houses, and a lot of concern about that pattern extending throughout the town, particularly in the residence C zoning district, which is the district that has the smallest lots—I think quarter‑acre lots are the minimum. And some of the lots in the South Meadow area were quite a bit larger than a quarter of an acre, so they could support large houses. And there’s been a fair amount of that. And we’re seeing that in other—other parts of the town. The town—and I think that’s an indication of increasing wealth and less economic diversity in the town since we’ve been here. I think it’s a wealthier town overall than it was, disproportionately so to the general—what’s happened generally—in the Commonwealth. It still, though, has an interesting aspect in that there are a lot of us—people my age and older—who do not want to retire somewhere else. We are—we’re very fond of the town, and we want to stay in the town. So I think there are good prospects for continuing to have a population which does have some significant variety of age as long as we can keep a town where—where senior citizens can afford to live.

MK: So the overall population of the community is aging?

JC: It is aging. It’s definitely aging. I think it has become somewhat more difficult in this town, as it has in many others, to get volunteers for service on town boards. I think that’s a general—a general trend. There are certainly a lot more families now where both spouses are working. And that makes it more difficult to volunteer for work on town boards. The charitable organizations I think are doing well. I think they still are able to attract a strong complement of volunteers. The town I think is—while it may not be as economically diverse, it’s just as interesting, if not more so, as it was when we first moved here.

01:17:55 (end of audio one)

00:00:00 (begin audio two)

JC: One of the things we liked about the town was that—

CK: Some of the good things or things—

JC: Yeah. One of the things we liked about the town was that there were a lot of academics who lived here. And so we thought there’d be an active, sort of intellectual flavor to a lot of the opportunities that the town provides. And that—that is certainly the case. In fact, that may even have increased since the time we’ve been here. The library has gotten more active, a lot more events around the library. The Concord Art Association has become much more active in the town, providing much more—many more opportunities for—through shows and art classes and so forth. The Emerson Umbrella—which didn’t exist when we moved to town; that was still one of the schools down on Stow Street—has, particularly the last few years, become much, much more active in terms of its offerings for education in the town. So there’s a lot going on in the town of interest. And a lot of it is very, very high quality. So that part of the town I think is even more attractive perhaps than it was when we first moved here. The—but I think it’s become—the town’s become a little more—become more stratified. It’s much more an upper‑ and high‑income town overall I believe than it was when we first—when we first moved here.

MK: Well, this has just been amazing. Insightful. Thank you. Thank you very much for this view. And it’s great to hear somebody really elaborate on the intellectual flavor of the place.

JC: Uh‑hunh (affirmative).

CK: Did you get to say what you wanted to say? Did you leave anything out that was on your mind?

JC: Well—no. Just—I just would tell you that there were certain details that I’ve left out to sort of protect the innocent along the way. (laughs) So, some people, if they’re reading this and they know what happened, may disagree with sort of a gloss I’ve put on a few things, which is fine.

CK: Thank you.

MK: Let’s see. How do you stop this thing?

00:02:47 (end of audio two)